Mayor de Blasio announced Nov. 19 that 62,000 apartments at the Housing Authority would be renovated through a plan that converts the funding for the units to the Section 8 program, but its chances to improve conditions for NYCHA tenants are a longshot, the union leader representing NYCHA employees said.
What Will Change
The $13 billion in upgrades — which will affect more than a third of NYCHA’s 400,000 residents — will be funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program. The conversions allow the buildings to be maintained by private-property managers while still remaining public housing and keeping rents the same.
The renovations, which will begin next year, will include improved kitchens and bathrooms, as well as windows, elevators, boilers and roofs being replaced. Residents will remain in their apartments while the upgrades occur. NYCHA has not selected the apartments that will receive the repairs, which will be completed by 2028.
The Mayor has repeatedly blamed years of Federal disinvestment for the malfunctioning boilers, leaking roofs and lead paint that plagued public housing.
“We must work with the Federal Government, which is obviously the single biggest source of resources and the legal power to make the changes,” Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference at the Betances Community Center in the Bronx, one of the developments that will receive upgrades under the program. “I think we’ve had very productive conversations with HUD that certainly leave us feeling like they want to see this be a crucial part of what we do going forward.”
NYCHA Interim Chair Stanley Brezenoff noted that the RAD program would also allow the Authority to free up its resources to focus on the remaining apartments. The de Blasio administration announced that 2,400 apartments would be repaired under the conversion program in June.
May Jeopardize Jobs
Greg Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents 8,000 NYCHA employees, has been critical of the RAD program, asserting that there was no guarantee that the apartments would not later be converted to market rate, sending their rates soaring. (A NYCHA spokesperson said the developers must sign a 99-year lease.) He was also concerned that as the number of NYCHA units dwindled because they were converted to Section 8, the number of HA workers could be reduced.
“Our members will not be working in these developments, they’ll be sent elsewhere — for now,” he said.
The Mayor insisted that the staff would be retained. “All current NYCHA employees, we need them, we have a lot of work to do. They might move to a different development to do some of that work but they are going to be working for NYCHA,” he said.
Less than a week before the RAD program expansion was announced, a Federal Judge determined that the consent decree proposed by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office and the de Blasio administration in June in order to resolve the investigation of NYCHA’s non-compliance with lead-paint laws would not bring about meaningful change. The agreement required the city to spend at least $1.2 billion on public housing over the next five years, an investment the Mayor said he was committed to regardless of what happened with the consent decree.
Clash on Receivership
U.S. District Judge William Pauley suggested that one solution to alleviate NYCHA’s woes was for the Authority to be placed under receivership by HUD, a route the Mayor did not agree with.
“I think it would be a huge mistake for the people of public housing in this city because it will take the decision-making power someplace else, and we don’t know what that will lead to,” Mr. de Blasio said at the press conference. “I for one believe that there is a better chance of the problems being solved with the leadership we have now and the structure we have now rather than a receivership.”
Investigators determined that from 2012 to 2016, NYCHA did not perform Federally-required lead-paint inspections and that former Chairwoman Shola Olatoye, who stepped down in May, falsely certified that the agency was in compliance with HUD rules.
Mayor de Blasio has insisted that his administration was unaware that the inspections stopped until April 2016, as well as reports that NYCHA contested Department of Health findings of excessive levels of lead-paint in public-housing units. That was despite the fact that media outlets led by the Daily News had reported the practice since 2015.
“If anyone had presented to me along the way that these reports from the Department of Health were being contested that would have been the day that we started the process of turning that around,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Mr. Floyd questioned the Mayor’s claim that he was unaware of NYCHA’s lead-paint problem.
“Preet Bharara said in March  that there was lead at NYCHA so how could he not be aware of lead?” he asked, referring to the then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who launched a probe of the HA’s lapse in compliance with lead-paint laws.
The union leader doubted that the public-private partnership would be as successful as the Mayor hoped.
“The Mayor’s track record for fixing things isn’t very good,” Mr. Floyd said.
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